An Excellent No-Dig Garden Demonstration

no dig gardening demonstration

This no-dig garden demonstration is excellent:

No dig gardening runs the gamut from Ruth Stout’s system (which is unfortunately straw-based) to the Back to Eden wood chips method.

My most recent no-dig garden was the one I built with bamboo, cardboard, seaweed, cow manure, chop-and-drop and compost:

It really works well, almost no matter how you do it.

The layers break down and compost in place and the soil life really gets going like you wouldn’t believe. I used big piles of mulch and leaves in my Tennessee garden years back and was absolutely amazed by the work population after a year. They were everywhere, and the hard red clay transformed into black loam within a year. Awesome!

Compost_960I cover this method among many others in my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting.

Even though it’s not usually all that practical for large spaces, no dig gardening, lasagna gardening and Back to Eden gardening is perfect for backyard spaces, particularly where the native soil is less than wonderful.

Forking the soil beneath may help make the no-dig garden system work better, but I haven’t done that in the past. I’ve just put down cardboard and newspaper, followed by whatever I have available for compostable materials.

Kitchen scraps, leaves, grass clippings, manure, rotten wood, potting soil, peat moss, mushroom compost, banana peels, eggshells, seaweed… just get stuff that rots.

I also try to get a wide variety of materials for maximum mineral content. Seaweed is quite valuable for this, as is cow manure (provided it’s not the evil kind you’ll find across most of the United States).

Grass clippings! Leaves! Kitchen scraps! Paper!

We have these things all the time. Instead of chucking them, why not build some sweet little backyard beds instead?

Even tire gardens can be built as no-dig gardens:

In Florida I usually just dug beds. Here in the hard-to-dig rocky clay, I’m moving back towards experiments with no-dig gardening.

How has it worked for you?

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Making Another Batch of Dave’s Fetid Swamp Water(TM)

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As shared in my book Compost Everything, this method of feeding plants allows you to stretch fertility a long, long way and re-use “waste:”

Many people have written in to say how much they appreciate this simple method for creating liquid plant fertilizer.

As Gardener Earth Guy commented on the video:

“This is the absolute best garden trick I’ve learned in a long time. My banana have gotten giant, sweet potato have rope vines, and loquats are getting giant. What doesn’t get a chop n drop goes in the bin.”

You can throw in weeds, fruit, kitchen scraps, urine, manure… just find organic matter and throw it in. I like a wide mix. This is a pretty simple batch, only containing moringa, compost, cow manure and urine. I did get some Epsom Salts after making the video and will throw that in next. A 55-gallon drum like this can easily feed 10,000 square feet of corn for a growing season. I know – I’ve done it!

It beats making “normal” compost and having to spread it all around.

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Tiny Life Doing Huge Work

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There is some good sense beyond the modern push to “no-till” gardening methods.

One of the best arguments I’ve found is that no-till farming and gardening doesn’t disturb the soil ecosystem.

You may not think of a patch of ground as a huge web of living creatures, but it is. And those creatures do a lot of hard work, all day, day and night.

Check out this timelapse video showing how soil fauna break down fallen leaves:

 

Bioturbation with and without soil fauna from Wim van Egmond on Vimeo.

 

Impressive, isn’t it?

When you rototill an area, you kill off a lot of the useful creatures in the soil, both macroscopic and microscopic.

On a forest floor or a healthy patch of prairie, these creatures break down debris and turn it into the soil, bringing plants the good stuff they need to thrive.

One of the reasons I don’t use pesticides and herbicides (with the exception of the occasional nicotine spray to kill pesky cucumber beetles) is because I do not want to kill soil life.

Just because you can’t see what’s happening beneath your feet doesn’t mean you should ignore it.

Tread lightly and nature will do a lot of good work for your garden. Most bugs and worms are not our enemies.

 

*h/t PermieFlix for finding this video.

David-the-good-books-revised

Easy Lasagna Gardening the FREE Way

Patricia Lanza’s book Lasagna Gardening inspired a lot of people, including myself.

I was reminded of the sheet-mulching / lasagna gardening method a couple of weeks ago when I re-watched Geoff Lawton’s excellent film Permaculture Soils.

There’s a spot out back near our gardens that often gets soppy wet in the rainy season. It also has hard clay and rocks beneath the grass. Yet I wanted to do some gardening there.

The solution? A quick bamboo-sided “lasagna gardening” raised bed.

lasagna gardening

Easy Lasagna Gardening on the Cheap

Lasagna gardening is all about making lots of layers – here’s my latest video demonstrating this easy way to build a garden fast!

Are you ready to build your own lasagna garden?

It’s all about the layers… let’s get layering!

Layer 1: Manure and Seaweed

I started with a thin layer of cow manure and seaweed to encourage the soil life to eat up the grass and start loosening things, plus to provide nutrition.

lasagna gardening manure

Geoff Lawton throws down just manure, but I have lots of seaweed available here and it’s loaded with good stuff.

For those of you in the states… watch out when using manure. It can destroy all your hard work!

Layer 2: Cardboard Weed Block

I bought Rachel a chest freezer… and it came in a great big cardboard box!

Naturally, I had to find a way to use that in the garden. Weedblock it is!

First, I laid the cardboard over the bed to get a rough size:

lasagna-gardening-cutting-cardboard-weedblock-layer

Then I stomped it into place. I wanted it all the way to the edges of the bed so pesky grasses won’t come through.

lasagna-gardening-stomping-down-cardboard

Layer 3: The Random “STUFF IT” Layer

After the cardboard was in place, it was time to start throwing down some biomass.

I used pigeon pea bushes and heliconia leaves.

lasagna gardening pigeon-peas-layer

You can also use whatever brush you have lying around. Leaves, shredded paper, chunks of wood, whatever.

Layer 4: Kitchen Scraps

lasagna gardening kitchen scraps layer

Why not?

Layer 5: Kitchen Scraps

The next layer was a thin one, made from sifted soil from my chicken coop.

lasagna-gardening-kitchen-scraps-chicken-manure

This is manure and compost-rich dirt with bits of biochar in it. You can see this composting method here.

There’s not a lot of rhyme or reason to these layers so don’t overthink things. Just throw in the compostable material you currently have available and let nature do the rest.

Layer 6: The Final Compost Planting Layer

And, to top it all off, I added a bunch of mostly-finished compost:

lasagna-gardening-final-layer

You really don’t need to fill the whole top layer with compost, though. You could just mulch with grass clippings or leaves over the whole top, then fill some pockets with good compost and plant transplants in those… which reminds me, that’s what I did next. Transplanted!

Transplanting into the New Lasagna Garden Bed

I had some bird peppers and a single tomato seedling ready to go… so they went in!

lasagna gardening

And then they were nicely watered in to settle the roots:

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I watered them with compost tea for a little extra “juice” to ease the shock of transplanting, but that’s not really necessary.

If you have lousy soil, a poorly drained area, a lot of pesky grass you want to cover without digging, or if you’re just interested in the idea, give lasagna gardening a try. It works and the area where you throw down cardboard and organic matter like this will become one of the richest areas in your entire yard.

Everything in this bed was free. Granted, I did have to buy a chest freezer to get the cardboard, but hey – you can get cardboard anywhere!

Finally, I have more on this and other methods of composting in my book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting.

Get your copy here.

And if you’ve done the lasagna gardening / sheet mulching thing in your own gardens, how did it work for you?

Let me know in the comments.

 

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David-the-good-books-revised

This Agrarian Life

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Herrick Kimball’s new video series on YouTube is packed so full of inspiration and good ideas, it’s hard to sit through them – they’ll make you want to get gardening!

A few selections:

Subscribe to his channel here – he’s already posted over 60 episodes.

Also, if you don’t have Herrick’s Planet Whizbang Idea Book for Gardeners yet, check out my review here. Definitely worth owning.

It’s great to see Herrick branching out yet again into a new area. These short episodes are a lot of fun.

David-the-good-books-revised

Skillcult Remembers!

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I’ve been plugging Steven’s work ever since we met a while back. He and I both have that INTJ insanity going that makes experimentation a way of life.

He recently hit 10,000 subscribers on his YouTube channel and gave me a nice shout-out:

I’ve been sending traffic to other people since I started this site. Trading links and giving shout-outs connects you to the bigger community of gardeners and homesteaders, plus boosts your own profile as a side benefit.

Back when I first started linking to people, it only meant a few views for them. My reach was short and my site was small.

Now it means more, as you guys are quite happy to mobilize and send views to a worthy site or video if I say “hey – this guy is great!”

All of us are learning all the time. Sometimes I feel more like a good collector and interpreter of information rather than a brilliant innovator. Sure, I come up with some good ideas now and again but there’s really nothing new under the sun.

If I made a list of the people I need to thank, I’d have a hard time reaching the end of it. The commentors here that send me off searching on something new… the family members that said “you can do it!” when I was a kid… the experimenters like Steven that get me thinking along unexpected and profitable lines… I am blessed.

Subscribe to Steven’s channel if you haven’t already. Also make sure to visit his website – there’s a ton of info there on everything from axes to grafting.

He’s a great guy to follow.

Even if I did use a screen shot for this post making him look totally dopey.

David-the-good-books-revised

How to Make Homemade Potting Soil With Three Simple Ingredients

homemade potting soil recipe

Today you’ll learn how to make homemade potting soil using only three simple ingredients. I’ll also give you alternate recipes for potting soil in case you don’t have those three readily available.

My Homemade Potting Soil Recipe

If you’d like to see me make my homemade potting soil, here’s a video I created illustrating the process:

First, you’ll need a place to work.

I like to spread a tarp on the grass and use that as my mixing area, but you can work on any solid surface. A tarp is easy to roll back and forth to help you mix, but making potting soil isn’t rocket science and you can really do it anywhere.

Second, gather your materials. My potting soil recipe has three main ingredients:

1. Rotten Wood

Fresh wood chips will eat up a lot of the nitrogen in your potting soil mix and can cause your plants to struggle. Rotten wood doesn’t cause that issue, plus it holds moisture and provides a loose and airy texture to the mix.

homemade potting soil recipe ingredient rotten wood

As you know if you’ve ready my popular book Compost Everything: The Good Guide to Extreme Composting, I don’t throw away or burn the logs and sticks that fall in my yard. Instead, I use them to feed the soil.

Leaving a pile of brush and logs in a corner of your property to rot over time will give you a ready source of rotten wood.

If you haven’t started doing that yet, just go for a walk in the woods and get a nice sack of fluffy, crumbly wood and drag it home.

2. Aged Cow Manure

I gather manure from my neighbor’s cows and leave it on a piece of metal in the sun to age for a few months.

Homemade potting soil recipe aged manure

Fresh cow manure is too “hot.”

If my home-baked manure sounds too weird, just pile it up in a compost heap somewhere and let it go for a few months. That will leave you with a nutritious, organic-matter-rich pile of good stuff for your homemade potting soil.

NOTE: Manure in the United States is often contaminated with long-term herbicides that will destroy your garden and your potted plants. Read Karen’s story and learn more about that danger here.

3. Sifted Soil/Grit

I let my chickens do a lot of composting for me, like this:

I go into the coop or chicken run, sift out the grit, soil and compost, then use it in my homemade potting soil.

Homemade potting soil recipe sifted chicken run soil

You don’t need to do that, though. No chickens? No problem.

I sift grit from the local creek bed and add that sometimes. I’ve also just added good garden soil, old potting soil mix from expired plants and even regular old sand.

Mix It All Up

Now all you need to do is get mixing.

Smash the rotten wood into smaller chunks, break up the cow patties, and pour in the grit. I use one part rotten wood, one part aged manure and one part grit/soil in my potting soil recipe, but don’t overthink it. If it looks loose and feels good, the plants will be happy.

As you’ll notice in my video, I often leave pretty big chunks of wood in my homemade potting soil. The potted plants seem to like them and they act as moisture reservoirs and soil looseners.

If you need a finer homemade potting soil for starting seeds, just crush the mix finer or run a coarser mix through some hardware cloth to sift it.

Alternate Ingredients for Homemade Potting Soil

If you don’t have cow manure, try goat or rabbit manure. Both work quite well. Homemade compost is also excellent, though I never seem to have enough for everything I want to do.

Don’t have grit/sand available? Vermiculite or perlite both work nicely, though you have to buy them.

Rotten wood can be replaced with peat moss or coconut coir. I prefer the coir. It seems to repel water less. You can also use leaf mould. Sift it out in the local forest – it’s wonderful.

Along with these ingredients, I’ve also added some ashes, crushed charcoal, coffee grounds, old potting soil, peanut shells and even moldy cocoa nibs.

When I ran my nursery business I often stretched my potting soil budget by mixing purchased soil with rotten wood chips I got from a local tree company and set aside for years to break down.

Just keep your homemade potting soil loose and fluffy with a good mix of ingredients and your plants will do great.

 

Did you enjoy this article? Share it! Here’s a Pinterest graphic:

how to make homemade potting soil a homemade potting soil recipe graphic for pinterest

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Deliciously Illegal Tonka Beans

illegal-tonka-beans

I never heard of tonka beans until last week when a farmer shared some with me.

Now I’m amazed by them.

The aroma, the flavor… heavenly.

Tonka-bean

There’s one problem: in the US, tonka beans are illegal!

Ah… the land of the free!

In yesterday’s video I share more on the deliciously illegal tonka bean… and Rachel crashes my presentation:

The reason tonka beans are illegal is because of outdated research on one compound in the beans: courmarin.

According to a quite entertaining post by Ike Delorenzo at The Atlantic:

“The fear of coumarin in the U.S. stems from the oft-repeated saw that it is a blood thinner. It’s not. Coumadin® is the blood thinner trademarked by Bristol-Meyers Squibb. To make matters more confusing, Coumadin is made, in part, by changing the chemical structure of coumarin. Doctors who spoke with me (and who were terrified of being quoted) said there they’re aware of no anti-coagulant effect from naturally occurring coumarin in general, or tonka beans in particular. In nature, only certain rare decomposition fungi can convert coumarin to the anti-coagulant molecule. Cows grazing on (pounds of) such rotting sweet clover led to the discovery of the Coumadin drug.

Humans would need to eat an unreasonably bovine amount of tonka bean to fall ill. The shavings of a single bean is enough for 80 plates. At least 30 entire tonka beans (250 servings, or 1 gram of coumarin total) would need to be eaten to approach levels reported as toxic—about the same volume at which nutmeg and other everyday spices are toxic.
So is the FDA enforcing this old law? Has anyone been busted for tonka bean possession? Yes! While the financial industry recently spun out of deregulated control, federal regulators got busy tracking down chefs using the tonka bean.”
Sounds about right. Forget going after real criminals – LET’S GO SWAT SOME CHEFS!

Uses for Tonka Bean Trees (Dipteryx odorata)

Tonka bean trees, AKA Dipteryx odorata, are nitrogen-fixing leguminous trees with beautiful, very hard wood.
The wood is particularly well adapted for use in tool handles, agricultural implements, sporting goods, and other uses utilizing its high bending strength and good shock resistance qualities. The somewhat oily nature of the wood and its hardness allow its use for bearings, cogs, shafts, and other uses in place of lignum vitae, where friction wear is a problem. It makes excellent wood for railway crossties and posts, for it is durable and does not split when exposed to the elements. This wood should also do exceptionally well as boat keels and frames, ice sheathing, industrial flooring, and specialty items requiring a strong durable wood. Small quantities have been shipped into the United States for high-grade face veneer.
Check this picture out:
That’s a shot from IBI International, a Swedish building materials corporation.
They relate that the wood is “resistant to fungi, insects and marine borers. Railroad crossties lasted from 10 to 22 years when used in well dried soils.”
Even if it weren’t for the delicious beans, this tree would be a great addition to a tropical food forest. Lumber, nitrogen-fixation and a spice. Excellent!
I hope my beans sprout.
David-the-good-books-revised

Why You Should Put Clay in Compost Piles

add-clay-to-compost-piles

Steve Solomon recommends you add clay to compost piles, especially if you have sandy soils.

Putting Clay in Compost

Since I pretty much do everything Steve Solomon tells me to do, I started putting clay in compost piles some time back… but now I’m really getting serious. You can see me adding clay to the compost layers in the video I posted yesterday:

An article at The Food Garden Group in Tasmania reports good results with clay in compost piles:

The heaps made with clay, so long as they contain a reasonable amount of coarse material to enable some air movement, do not need to be turned.  The ingredients all get to soak and mix in a thick clay soup before stacking (putting a pile of food and drinks in every pantry) and the heaps seem to stay moist for a very long time. I recently opened up a heap I hadn’t touched for three months and it was still moist and generating warmth. A reasonable compost can be made by simply wetting the materials with clay slurry as the heap is built but remember that only the material which decomposes in association with clay particles is going to become durable humus/clay complex. A heap built this way will probably need to be turned and re-watered too. Think of the difference between a dish that’s been marinated compared to one that’s only been sprinkled with a dressing.

Clay is made up of very fine particles so the combined surface area of all the particles in a peanut sized clod might be equal to a tennis court or three Clive Palmer skins or some such mind boggling factoid. No wonder, then, that it can hold so much water. Also these particles carry a negative charge so each one is capable of forming bonds with positively charged particles (ions) like many of the essential plant nutrients. They gradually fill up with waste, sticking fast and firm to walls, floors and ceilings as the food in the pantries is consumed.


The resultant compost is packed with nutrients which are more or less available depending on how complex the chemical bonding with the clay is. What we have here is humus in close association with clay, a long lasting, water retentive material in which plant roots and soil organisms can find all the nutrition they are looking for. A material which will keep carbon, not only locked up, but also doing a great job for years to come.”

Putting Clay in Compost is Good For Sandy Soils

In sandy soils organic matter burns up a lot quicker than it does in clay soils. Clay is capable of hanging on to the good stuff for longer, binding with organic material and increasing its persistence.

If you make compost in an area where clay is not part of the soil, it’s easy to put clay in compost via buying bentonite. Just sprinkle it in as you layer materials – you don’t need as much clay as I dumped in my pile.

According to Infogalactic:

“The application of clay technology by farmers in northeast Thailand, using bentonite clay, has dramatically reversed soil degradation and resulted in greater economic returns, with higher yields and higher output prices. Studies carried out by The International Water Management Institute and partners in 2002–2003 focused on the application of locally sourced bentonite clays to degraded soils in the region. These applications were carried out in structured field trials. Applying bentonite clays effectively improved yields of forage sorghum grown under rain-fed conditions.[14][15]

Bentonite application also influenced the prices that farmers received for their crops. Production costs are higher, but due to more production and the quality of the food, clay farmers could afford to invest and grow more and better food, compared to nonclay-using farmers.”

Lots to think about. Make that compost stick around!

 

If you like this post – please pin it! Look, I made a nice graphic.
add-clay-to-compost

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